How Is ADHD Diagnosed?

Just because a young child has trouble sitting still and seems to have a short attention span does not mean that the child has ADHD.

A lot of normal, healthy children are extremely bouncy when young, and may often seem out of control. The diagnosis of ADHD must be made by an expert after a thorough assessment. No laboratory or high-tech tests are available to confirm a diagnosis.

An evaluation may be done by one of several specialists:

  • A developmental pediatrician or a child psychiatrist who specializes in ADHD

  • A physician with expertise in ADHD

  • A psychologist who has specialized in ADHD (many school psychologists have this expertise)


The diagnosis of ADHD is based on:

  • The way the child behaves in various settings (for example, at school, in the playground, and at home)

  • The presence of at least six of the symptoms of ADHD, some of which should have begun before age seven 

  • How much harm these symptoms are causing the child academically and socially

  • The fact that symptoms have been present for period of time

As part of your child’s evaluation:

  • You will be asked about your child’s medical, social, and developmental background and your family history.

  • Your child will be interviewed.

  • Your child might be given tests to check on language and motor skills, and to rule out any learning disabilities.

  • Your child’s teacher will need to answer questions about the way the child behaves, learns, pays attention, follows directions, and completes assignments.

Conditions That May Be Confused With ADHD

There are a number of conditions that may be easily confused with ADHD. That’s why the diagnostic process must be thorough to make sure that your child has ADHD and not a condition that produces similar symptoms.

Some of them may also occur with ADHD. If an additional condition is present along with ADHD, that condition must be treated as well.

Conditions that produce symptoms similar to ADHD include:

  • Difficulty with hearing or with speech

  • Problems with the ability to learn (such as reading problems)

  • Language and communication disorders

  • Problems with mood, such as anxiety or depression

  • Problems with the nervous system

  • Problems in the home environment that might be affecting your child

  • Problems with development

  • Conduct disorder (behavior problems that are more severe than most)

  • Sleep disorders

  • Tic disorders (involuntary movements of the face or other parts of the body)


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